Massachusetts zoning laws generally enable municipalities to regulate the siting and design of large industrial projects. However, state law, MGL Ch40A, Sec. 3, paragraph 9 which was established in 1985, specifically limits municipalities' ability to regulate solar projects. At the time it was established the law was intended to assist residential and small-scale solar; large-scale industrial photovoltaic installations were not yet envisioned.
MGL Ch40A states that municipalities cannot unreasonably regulate ANY solar except for public health, welfare or safety. This means that towns trying to reasonably site industrial solar to protect agriculture, forests or wetlands/water can and are being sued as being unreasonable. These threats and towns' concern about being sued has resulted in many thousands of acres of forest and farms to be lost to solar facilities.
CURRENT LEGISLATIVE ACTION:
House bill H.3230 and Senate bill S.2164 would establish a municipality’s right to reasonably regulate solar power locations.
To pass, they must first be moved out of committee (in this case the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE) committee) to be considered for a vote by the House and then the Senate by July 30. Representative Michael Barrett is the House Chair of the TUE committee and can decide to move the bill out of committee and to a vote. If the bill doesn't get voted out now, we won't have another chance with the legislature for 1- 2 YEARS!
H.D. 3230 & S.D. 2164 are set for a hearing of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee on June 20.
The public is invited to testify in person or virtually, submit written testimony, or simply show support by being present at the hearing. Any and all of these actions are very important to demonstrating public support for bills, since legislators are vastly more likely to support bills that have huge public support.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!
To make it easy for you to participate, here are some guidelines.
1) Provide an in-person or virtual testimonial on June 20 from 10 a.m. -1 p.m. In order to do so, fill out this form by June 16 at 5:00 p.m. Additional details and instructions for participating in the hearing can be found HERE.
Your testimonial should be no more than 3 minutes in length- short! This may seem daunting but YOU CAN DO IT! This is your chance to make your voice heard and do something that matters a lot! Here’s some guidance:
a. Make it personal as to how this will affect you
b. Speak to major concerns (see details below)
c. Don’t try to address every issue- you only have three minutes.
2). Submit a written testimonial. This should be one to two pages, and can be submitted via email to JointCommittee by emailing: JointCommittee.Utilities&Energy@malegislature.gov. See a sample template HERE. The deadline to submit written testimony is Friday, June 23rd by 5:00 p.m. When submitting written testimony, send it as an attachment and use the following document title format:
Bill# - Your Organization’s Name – Support/Oppose
3) Be present online or, better yet, in person to the TUE hearing on June 20 from 10 a.m. -1 p.m. Your physical presence makes a big difference. Those who do not plan to testify but want to watch the public hearing may attend in person or view the live stream under the Hearings & Events section of the malegislature.gov/events legislative website.
For more information about the bills themselves, see the information below or go to
• HD 3230
SPECIFICS OF THE BILLS
H.D. 3230 & S.D. 2164 An Act Allowing Municipalities to Reasonably Regulate Solar Siting
Sponsors: Sen. Jacob Oliveira and Rep. Aaron Saunders
What the Bill Does
• Allows for balanced development of solar in Massachusetts- consistent with goals of the 2022 Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 - increase solar, protect carbon sequestration and storage, and promote state’s resilience by protecting Natural and Working Lands.
• Differentiates between residential solar and industrial solar in terms of regulation. Residential solar remains protected from unreasonable regulation. Reasonable regulation is affirmatively allowed for industrial, large-scale commercial solar.
• Expands reasons that municipalities can reasonably regulate solar to include protection of forested lands, agricultural lands, or wetlands.
Why It is Important
• Natural Working Lands are needed for a resilient future. The 2022 Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 states “Massachusetts’ natural and working lands provide many benefits to the residents of the Commonwealth, including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, recreational opportunities, food and wood production, and many other functions on which society and life depend. These benefits, often called ecosystem services, continually serve our society as long as Natural Working Lands can remain functioning.
• Mass., U.S., and international climate experts recognize that carbon storage and sequestration is essential as part of the solution to mitigating climate change. Only forests are able to remove carbon from the atmosphere at a large scale – there is no other mechanism that exists. Currently 0.6 gigatons of carbon are stored in Mass. forests. The Clean Energy and Climate Plan commits the Commonwealth to reduce greenhouse gases through enhanced carbon sequestration capacity and adoption of climate smart management practices.
• According to Mass Audubon and Clark Univ. since 2012, an estimated 6,000 acres or more of previously undeveloped land have been converted to large scale, ground-mounted solar arrays. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, existing rooftops in Mass. have the potential to support up to 47% of the state’s total electrical demand; these should be the first places to build.
• In a changing climate, food and water will be threatened; local protection of agricultural and water is essential for state and community resiliency. Reasonable regulation of large scale, industrial solar can ensure that safe and adequate drinking water remains available for residents, and that prime growing lands remain available for food production.
Section 3 of chapter 40A of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2020 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out the ninth paragraph, in lines 123 to 126, inclusive, and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:
No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy for residential purposes except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare. Commercial, governmental, and non-residential solar energy structures and systems may be reasonably regulated for purposes of (i) protecting public health, safety and welfare; (ii) preserving forested lands, agricultural lands, or wetlands; or (iii) ensuring compatibility with municipal zoning.
More info on the bills at:
• HD 3230
Time is of the essence! Here are some points you can make in your spoken or written testimonial:
Solar should not be at the expense of
• Carbon storage and sequestration which we need to mitigate climate change.
• Water, in the form of wetlands, drinking wells, water systems
• Active agriculture – vibrant local food sources are more important than ever.
Please ask your friends and networks to take action. Legislators respond when they hear from people across the state.